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Philly So Far

August 13, 2018

I’ve got a lot of thoughts on Philly. Right now, I’m not so sure I can sum them up in a tidy little package. Because there’s a lot of great stuff going on in this city. But it’s also dirty, congested, and seemingly overrun with a homeless population in dire need of mental health services.

However, that perspective may be skewed by ten years of living in upstate New York.

A little bit of litter has never gotten in the way between me and good food. And one thing I’ve been doing in Philly is eating well. Of course, I’m traveling with the kids, so my choices are driven a lot by their preferences. But so far that’s been working out just fine.

Even though we still have a day and a half in the city, I wanted to share where we’ve been and what we’ve eaten. As much for me to help remember this great trip, as for those of you who might be interested in living vicariously through the experience.

The best piece of news is that I seem to have learned from past mistakes.

Really, the only thing I wanted to eat this trip was an Italian pork sandwich from John’s Roast Pork. I kept on hearing that this was the best version of the form. For those unfamiliar with Philly’s best sandwich, it’s sliced roast pork, garlicky greens, and sharp provolone.

I’ve had it at DiNic’s and Tony Luke’s. But John’s was the one spot I had yet to try. So after dropping Mrs. Fussy off at her first meeting, this was the first stop I made with the kids. Before checking into the hotel, or unloading our stuff, we made a beeline to this South Philly sandwich shop.

Here’s the thing. I had no idea what the kids were going to like, so I ordered two roast pork sandwiches. One plain and one with the full build. These sandwiches are huge, and a half could certainly satisfy an adult. The boy likes things simple, so I knew he would take half of the plain sandwich. One half of the sandwich with the works was mine.

And that meant Little Miss Fussy was confronted with two sandwich halves for herself. One of each. The idea was for her to try them both, and taste which one she preferred. I figured that if needed, we could always buy more.

I’m not sure if it’s better or worse that she had an affinity for the plain one. The sharp provolone was fine, but she’s really not into deeply cooked greens. That meant more of the good stuff for me.

Man, I love these sandwiches. But now that I’ve had DiNic’s, Tony Luke’s, and John’s, based on my experiences DiNic’s is the best. My hope is to have one more sandwich at DiNic’s on this trip just to confirm that evaluation. For those who are curious, I can get into the nitty gritty details later. This post is long enough already.

After our sandwiches, we went out to a classic South Philly water ice spot. When I was a kid walking through New York, I had two favorite flavors of Italian ice: rainbow and chocolate. And rainbow isn’t even a flavor.

My heart always belonged to chocolate, and even though the Italian ices at Italiano’s weren’t my favorite, they certainly took me back. They were also perfect for a hot Philadelphia evening.

Saturday morning we woke up and went out for a very Chinese breakfast in Chinatown.

At Heung Fa Chun Sweet House we started off the day with some warm and sweet soy milk accompanied by fried dough and fried taro dough. There were also a couple of steamed roasted pork buns, and tub of sweet tofu pudding, and a sticky rice pouch filled with pork belly.

The kids love almost all of these things. The sticky rice went a bit beyond their comfort zone, but that’s okay. It’s important to continually try new things. Everything else was a smashing success. It was also surprisingly filling. Which meant they were okay to have a later lunch with my cousin at 2pm.

Lunch turned out to be later still.

My cousin’s favorite restaurant is Hardena, a tiny Indonesian place in South Philly. But because I was put in charge of ordering, our quick steam table selection turned into a full Rijsttafel experience, which took the kitchen some time to prepare.

The kids loved their chicken sate skewers. Little Miss Fussy enjoyed the pink coconut drink, es kelapa too. I thought it went incredibly well to quench the heat of the fiery sambal. My hunch was that my young man would love the beef rendang, but no dice. Usually he enjoys full flavored and tender stews, so this seemed in his wheelhouse. Oh well.

All in all, a very successful meal, and I’m thrilled that the kids enjoyed some of the flavors of a new-to-them cuisine.

Then it was off to Weckerly’s for dessert. Holy cow, this a delightful little ice cream shop. I probably never would have found it had it not been for my cousin and his wife. It’s a bit out of the way, but this was the one advantage to having a car in the city. Overall a car has been feeling like a burden, even more of a burden than in Manhattan where parking isn’t nearly this difficult.

But I digress.

Little Miss Fussy and I joked that the hot fudge brownie sundae we were sharing might be our dinner. The boy got one of their famous ice cream sandwiches. And when we got back to the hotel, nobody had an appetite for dinner.

Mrs. Fussy did have a half eaten cheese steak in the room. Even though I wasn’t hungry for it, she offered me a few bites. But those bites confirmed something I already knew. The cheesesteak is a fine sandwich, but the Italian pork is better.

Sunday morning we woke up ready for a dim sum brunch.

The kids wanted the dim sum cart experience, so after doing a little research, I brought the two of them to Ocean City. We were literally the very first people in the doors when they opened up at 10am. And we held down a table for a full 90 minutes.

We got into the traditional groove of snack and relax. Choosing only the dishes we wanted the most, and doing our best to avoid the temptation of loading up on everything that might have been appealing.

Everyone agreed the very best thing we ate was the baked barbecue pork bun. Yes, it sounds simple and trite, but this one was amazing. Deeply savory, incredibly soft, and sweetly glazed, this balance of flavor was fantastic, and the texture was incredibly comforting. Little Miss Fussy was delighted to get her tofu pudding. And I was quite pleased with the leaf wrapped packages of sticky rice.

Then it was back off to South Philly where we were going to meet my cousin in the park for his favorite Italian Ice. I should mention that in addition to the park hosting a farmers market, it was also home to Parks on Tap, which is a traveling beer garden. What a great concept to get people out and enjoying the city’s small parks.

All I knew about the water ice though was that this guy Chris makes his own stuff and has a cart on a bike that he brings to farmer’s markets.

What I didn’t know was that the bike was a motorcycle. And I also didn’t know his ices were in prepacked little cup containers. These were delicious, and the flavors super bright and true. But I prefer my water ice with a bit more flow. Maybe that’s blasphemy. I don’t know. I’m not from around these parts. I do know that Italian Ice comes in a range of textures, and I’d love to learn more about the different schools of thought on the stuff.

For those wondering, the name of the cart is D’Emilo’s Old World Ice Treats, and it’s kind of a big deal. So you should totally check it out. Just know he sells out of flavors, so the earlier you hit up the cart, the better.

Then my cousin, who is much much cooler than I am, took me to one of the coolest places I’ve been in a long long time. It was the Bok Bar, which is on the roof of the partially restored and renovated Edward Bok Vocational School.

Sunday is family day, so kids are allowed up the elevator to this hip bar with a million dollar view of the city. Seriously, if I lived here, I might spend all my time up on that rooftop. I grabbed a local pilsner, an order of fries dusted in za’atar, and some hummus with crudite. It was a perfect place to hang and catch up with family.

But the locals had to get on with their lives. After saying goodbye, we passed a super cute patisserie on the way to the car, and couldn’t help but treat the kids to whatever they wanted. That meant a chocolate mousse cake for the young man and an opera cake for the little lady. I got to have some bites of each myself. Sometimes it’s okay to have dessert before dinner.

Which, incidentally, brought us back to Chinatown. The kids do love Chinese foods. Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House was calling our name. There we had two hand drawn noodle dishes (sliced beef noodle soup and peanut butter noodles), and one shaved noodle preparation (pork soy sauce noodles). They were all excellent.

For all of these adventures to Chinatown, I’ve made sure to walk the kids through Reading Terminal Market. However, we have yet to stop to eat anything within its walls. I’ve built Little Miss Fussy up to a fever pitch of excitement, to the point where if we don’t eat there soon she may explode.

This last day and a half will be all about the market. Well, after we get some soup dumplings in Chinatown. Wish us luck.

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